Robert Wurtz II
And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15–16 ESV)
Having expelled Adam and, therefore, all of humankind from His manifest presence (that Adam and Eve enjoyed in the Garden of Eden), God planned to supersede that experience by eventually moving into people individually. In the language of Jesus, God the Holy Spirit was with (Greek para) you but would be in (Greek en) you (John 14:17). Dwelling in humankind was always the objective. God walked with men like Enoch. Abraham had personal encounters with Him. Moses encountered God in the desert at the burning bush. All of these were awesome experiences, but God had something far greater in mind.
God tasked Moses with leading the people out of Egypt and into the promised land. What made the land special is that God had chosen to manifest Himself there. Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt (a type of this present evil world), and God destroyed Pharaoh (a type of Satan). This event is a revelation of the order and pattern of coming into the presence of God for all times. Sin must be forsaken, and obedience agreed to if we are going to know the manifest presence of God.
Moses and the children of Israel advanced to the Mountain of God where God uniquely manifested Himself in a fiery display of thunderings and lightening. We have this comment regarding the experience in Hebrews that so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.” (Hebrews 12:21 NKJV) No person or animal could approach this mountain under penalty of death. It was here that God called Moses up to the mountain to speak to Him as it were face to face, which is a way of saying in the manifest presence of God. Joshua also had permission to be on the mountain at this time.
The Terms of the Relationship
Because God is utterly holy, He cannot and will not uniquely manifest Himself in a sinful environment. This is why He was manifesting Himself on the mountain that was effectively sealed-off from everyone and everything — including animals. God was going to move off the mountain and down among the people. But first He needed to give Moses some rules regarding their behavior. We call these rules a covenant. A covenant is an agreement of terms between parties that govern their relationship. God also provided Moses with specific instructions on how to build a tabernacle for Him to dwell (a palace of sorts) that was patterned according to the temple in Heaven.
Keep in mind that God’s manifest presence was an awesome thing to experience. God is holy and must instill that fact into mankind so that we are aware of who and what God is. The writer to the Hebrews describes God as a consuming fire. So we need to have a covenant in place to know what is expected of us. Covenants in the Bible are serious business. Cutting a covenant meant that blood was shed and sprinkled on the agreement and the people making it. If the covenant is broken the guilty party deserves death. That’s the simple explanation.
The Old Covenant governed the relationship between God and Israel with rules regarding sin. God was going to be near so there had to be an agreement. In a replay of the Garden of Eden, if the covenant was broken the Israelites would be expelled from the land of Israel and God’s unique presence would depart. This basic principal governs the concept of land, temple, presence of God and sin and it is an axiomatic reality under both the Old and New Covenant. In other words, when sin comes in, God departs, and if things get bad enough, He will destroy the temple where He once dwelled (1 Kings 9:6-8, 1 Cor. 3:17).
Servicing the Covenant
If the covenant was broken either God had to leave and the people banished from the land, or the covenant had to be “serviced.” And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission. (Hebrews 9:22 NKJV) The sacrificial system (sometimes called the cultus) was in place to provide a way to forgive transgressions and sins through the shedding of blood (loss of life).
There is a song that says “one drop of blood” is all that was needed to fall to the scales and cover my transgressions. It’s not true and the statement is misleading. The blood of Christ is not a substance that could be drained and exchanged for payment for sin “drop by drop.” If this were true the beating with the cat of nine tails would have shed enough blood to save man. The point regarding “shedding of blood” is that Jesus died for our sins. This should open our eyes to the seriousness of sin and the extremes to which God had to go to reverse its effects and consequences.
Moreover, the servicing of covenants under both the Old and New Covenants was not meant to be abused or taken advantage of. It was not a means of allowing the people to live in gross sin and God’s presence would still remain. God asked Israel, “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.” (Isaiah 1:11-18 KJV) If you follow on in Isaiah chapter 1 you will find that God views religious exercise in the absence of repentance to be iniquity in itself. But we have gotten ahead of ourselves in this entry.
Playing With Sin
And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:4 NKJV)
God’s plans were soon challenged by the infamous debacle with Aaron and the people worshipping a Golden Calf. He could have wiped them off of the face of the earth and started fresh with a nation from the loins of Moses (Exodus 32:10). So Moses headed down the mountain with the Tablets in his hands. “And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp. And he said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear.” (Exodus 32:17–19 KJV)
Paul comments on these events when he writes, Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” (1 Corinthians 10:7 ESV, Exodus 32:6) As a consequence of this great sin, God told Moses that He would not go up with the people, but that He would send His angel instead. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people. (Exodus 33:3 NKJV)
God knew that if His unique presence was manifest among the people, with the flippant attitude that they had towards God and sin, He would end up destroying them. As then, so today, people generally do not take seriously either God or sin and as a consequence do not know His unique presence. Consider Ananias and Sapphira. God came near at Pentecost and now Satan was going to challenge His presence in the earth with the tried and true method of introducing sin and compromise into the people. It was a replay of Achan and his greed after the destruction of Jerico. If God had not revealed Ananias and Saphiras’ secret sin, God would likely have withdrawn from the people, the “move of God” would have ended, and the Apostles might have wondered what happened just like Joshua did. Instead of departing, God smote Ananias and Sapphira dead and remained among the people.
Sadly, the sobering lessons of the Old and New Testament have largely fallen on deaf ears. When we trade the presence of God for “play” or we “play around with sin,” we have played the fool.
When God Draws Near
Have you ever been up on the mountain in prayer (so to speak), desperate to see God move among His people, only to find that the very people you were on the mountain with were like Aaron? To them, sin is no big deal. They seemed to want to see God move, but you find out later that they went home from the prayer meeting and “rose up to play.” As a young Christian, we would seek God earnestly in prayer only to see things fall flat.
We couldn’t figure out why God wasn’t moving. In time we found out all kinds of scandalous stuff was happening “secretly” among us. Some even tried to move in the gifts of the Spirit. It was a replay of Achan’s tent and instead of killing folks, God just quit moving among us. I have to wonder, what on earth is wrong with people? They definitely never took seriously Hebrews 12:21. There was something missing in the cake mix (so to speak). They just didn’t get it. What a missed opportunity! What a waste of time and prayer. It didn’t have to be that way, but you always have an Achan or Ananias around, it seems.
It has been my experience as a Christian that few people truly reverence God. I’m not being critical, I’m trying to put my finger on the plain reading of both the New and Old Testament. You don’t need to be a theologian to realize that God’s presence will not come near when there is gross sin in the camp. This is why so few are moving in His manifest presence and end up substituting music, darkness, and ambiance. I’m afraid that an entire generation would cease to feel what they believe is the presence of God if suddenly there was no electricity. You can “feel something” with gross sin in your life when you have a means of electrifying the experience with lights, smoke, synthesizers, et al. It is a modern and fraudulent invention.
If we want to truly (and I mean truly) experience God among us we have to recognize that He is holy and cannot tolerate sin. We have to get fed up with the substitutes, get serious, stop playing at church and playing with sin. Away with the Aaron types who compromise and offer us substitutes saying “Israel, this is your God.” Really? God smote people dead in both the Old and New Testament.
This is a crisis hour that demands that God go before us to deal with our enemies. It is a spiritual battle and multitudes of souls are at risk. Have you ever considered that right this moment there could be more people on the road to hell than at any time in history? We need God to move. But God will not move among people who play with sin. We need God’s manifest presence like the book of Acts, but I’m not sure what would happen if God actually poured out His Spirit. How many funerals will there be? But instead, we just do without the outpouring.
May God give us a group of people with a heart that agrees with Moses when he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15–16 ESV) May God give us a generation who is hungry for the real thing and will utterly reject powerless falsehood.